The experiences of learners diagnosed with learning disabilities in a learners with special education needs (LSEN) school.
Magardie, Soraya Juditha.
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Throughout the process of learning acquisition there are always learners who experience delays with grasping new concepts and adjusting to the learning environment. This is a global phenomenon found in all education systems. These learners are usually diagnosed as having learning disabilities (LDs) and are often placed in schools for learners with special education needs (LSEN). However, the global trend is towards inclusive education, as it is thought that segregation partly contributes to the challenges faced by learners with disabilities. This study gives these learners a platform to voice how they think and feel about their diagnosis and subsequent school placement. The qualitative study was carried out at a school for LSENs in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and the focal point was the perceptions and experiences of learners diagnosed with LDs. The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of labeling learners and placing them in an institution labeled as a special education school as an educational intervention. The study attempts to investigate the effects of such interventions on the social well-being and academic performance of the learners concerned. Self-determination theory (SDT) is a new focus area of psychology that centres on the development and nurturance of positive traits (Compton & Belmont, 2005), and that has been influential in educational psychology. Positive psychology has been attentive to optimistic human involvements and healthy consequences, which is a significant move in the direction of a complete understanding of human behaviour in society. SDT “specifies an organismic-dialectical meta-theory and suggests that the concept of basic psychological needs provides a useful basis for predicting whether the social environment will support optimal functioning or will, alternatively, promote maladaptation and ill-being” (Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2004). SDT underpinned this study, and informed the approach that allowed learners to voice their thoughts and feelings about their experiences at school. In so doing, the learners created their own intrinsic motivation and interest in their learning process, and were made aware of their learning environment. An interpretivist research paradigm was used, and data was analysed using thematic analysis. Data collection instruments included a focus group interview, individual interviews and semi-structured interviews, and classroom observations. The findings indicate that learners diagnosed with LDs in an LSEN school experience various feelings, the most common being initial feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. The study concludes that the separation and educational instruction of LSENs in a special education school environment does not essentially benefit them. This supports existing research that suggests that separating LSENs from their mainstream counterparts delays their development and integration into society as independent, self-supporting adults. Inclusive education systems are strongly recommended to encourage all learners to be allowed to interact and receive the same instruction, using differentiation in lesson planning to ensure that all learners are able learn at their own pace irrespective of diversity or learning ability. It is hoped that the findings of this study might be of significance to educators, policy makers and educational psychologists in raising awareness of the importance of considering learners’ views regarding their placement in LSEN schools. Key words: Learning disability, learners with special education needs (LSEN), inclusive learning environment, self-determination theory, inclusive education.